Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured six times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6

Andromeda Nebula

Photo of the Week. The great Andromeda Nebula is a galaxy like ours some 2.5 million light years away. The blue color comes from hot young stars, the red from older stars. A pair of smaller elliptical galaxies, NGC 205 and M 32, respetively hover above and below. Courtesy of Mark Killion.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 30, 2007.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule.

Welcome to the end of November, gateway to December and the coming passage of the Sun over the Winter Solstice the night of December 21, after which we begin the long journey back to spring.

To celebrate, the Moon begins to fade away as it passes its last quarter on Saturday, December 1. It then spends the rest of the week waning in the crescent phase, rising ever later until it sinks into dawn as it approaches new on Sunday the 9th. At the end of the week, on Thursday the 6th, it passes apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth. Near the beginning of our week, on the morning of Saturday the 1st, the Moon passes a couple degrees to the south of Saturn. Later in the week, watch the waning crescent take on Virgo's Spica and Venus. The morning of Tuesday the 4th finds the Moon rather well to the west (up and to the right) of the star, while on the following morning, the slimming Moon will appear below Spica and nicely to the right of the planet. Note the contrast: though Spica is first magnitude, Venus is 120 times brighter.

Passing conjunction with the Sun in late December, Jupiter is now gone from view. You'll be able to pick it up in morning skies in late January or early February. But no matter, since in the evening we have glorious Mars to admire. Retrograding in western Gemini, almost as bright as the brightest star, Mars now rises in the northeast just as evening twilight draws to a close. Just northeast of the Summer Solstice, the planet is almost as far north as it will get, and therefore rides high as it crosses the meridian around 2 AM.

As evening's Mars climbs higher, watch for the rising of Saturn around 11:30 PM, the planet now south of the main body of Leo, and rather well to the southeast of Leo's Regulus. Venus then finally pops up brilliantly around 3:30 AM.

While Comet Holmes is fading, it is still nicely visible in binoculars in Perseus near Mirfak, Alpha Persei. Look for it high to the northeast above bright Capella in early evening.

Andromeda takes center stage in early evening. The constellation's graceful curve of stars takes off from the northeast corner of the Great Square of Pegasus and heads further northeast toward Mirfak, Alpha Persei, near which you will find the comet. To the south of Mirfak lies Algol, one of the sky's great eclipsing variables, the star dropping from second magnitude to nearly fourth every 2.9 days as a small bright component partially hides behind a dimmer, larger one. Look to the northwest of central Andromeda to find Messier 31, the Andromeda Nebula (see above), a galaxy like ours some 2.5 million light years away and the most distant thing you can see with the naked eye.
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